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Private Castle

Turret sets off a distinctive home.

The French Norman-style home of Mac and Martha MacGillivray, believed to be built in 1931, is distinctive for its entryway turret and rounded roof lines. (SHNS photo by John Walker / The Fresno Bee)

Living in a beautiful, 72-year-old home has its drawbacks. Electrical outlets are relatively scarce, and you might wish for bigger windows.

But when your house is not only your castle but kind of looks like one, it's easy to overlook the absence of some of the 21st-century amenities many of us take for granted.

So it is with the French Norman-style home that Mac and Martha Mac Gillivray have lived in the past 13 years. The house, in Fresno, Calif., has been in the Mac Gillivray family since the end of World War II.

"I would put in a lot of glass if I were building new," Martha Mac Gillivray says. "But I'd never get rid of this house."

Like any good French Norman-style residence, the front door is contained in a tall, round tower with a conical roof. The rest of the roof also is steeply pitched with rolled edges, which gives it a thatched appearance from a distance.

The style takes its cue from centuries-old French rural residential architecture. Some French Norman-style homes appear to be cozy and romantic cottages. Others look more like small castles.

Karana Hattersley-Drayton, Fresno's historic preservation project manager, says English Tudor and French Norman were popular styles with U.S. soldiers returning home after World War I.

"They'd seen all these cute little cottages," Hattersley-Drayton says. "You enter into the home through this round tower, and it really is the idea that a man's or woman's home is his or her castle."

The Mac Gillivrays' home, completed in 1932 by local builders, definitely leans toward the quaint. But they say visitors are always surprised at how roomy the interior is. The airy, white-walled living room has high ceilings punctuated by carved wooden beams and a tile hearth so solid it appears you'd need a bulldozer to nudge it. A tripartite window makes a picturesque frame for a large Christmas tree during winter.

Martha Mac Gillivray says she and her husband have tried to maintain the house's original furnishings wherever possible. Bathrooms contain the original tile. Glass doorknobs open many of the interior doors.

Many of the lathe-plaster walls have niches where shelves and knickknacks give rooms added depth. In the fall, the Mac Gillivrays had the wall-to-wall carpet ripped out and the wooden floors refinished.

Hattersley-Drayton says the open floor plan is typical, "rather than teeny little rooms with 7-foot ceilings."

Even though the home was built in the first half of the last century, it's not as if the Mac Gillivrays are stuck in that time period. They have a couple of computers for Internet access. A central air-conditioning unit sits in the basement.

Present also meets the past where a door in the back leads to a large patio.

It wasn't until the early 20th century that the outdoors was incorporated into the overall plan of many California homes.

Mac Mac Gillivray, a retired agricultural engineer, admits he sometimes wishes for more than a couple of electrical plugs in the living room. And the bathrooms don't have any. But he says it's a small price to pay for a home that resembles few others in town.

"There aren't that many," Hattersley-Drayton says. "But what exists is so distinctive."

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